Mary Seton Corboy, urban farmer, 58
Mary Seton Corboy, the founder of a nationally renowned urban farm in Kensington, died Aug. 7 at age 58.
Corboy, a native of Washington, D.C., worked as a chef at several local venues until realizing her dream of pioneering an urban-farming initiative. In 1997, Corboy founded Greensgrow Farms in Kensington with business partner Tom Sereduk.
In a matter of years, the pair turned an abandoned lot, at 2501 E. Cumberland St., into a thriving urban farm, selling $5,000 in lettuce in their second year. Last year, total sales exceeded $1 million.
"Mary’s passion was to bring fresh-grown produce to whoever was looking for it," said Greensgrow staffer David Prendergrast. "She felt that a good-tasting, locally grown tomato was a gift from a higher power. She didn’t really care who was behind the higher power as long as she could have an amazing BLT during tomato season."
The organization’s community-supported agriculture program brings locally grown products into members’ homes, and it also provides an onsite farmstand stocked with organic products from local farmers. Greensgrow operates mobile markets to bring healthy foods into underserved neighborhoods and also educational and outreach programs.
Prendergrast said Corboy's vision of farm "was just a part of growing community."
"With that in mind, Greensgrow started to change into something that would bring the neighborhood closer together, giving opportunities for entrepreneur ideas," he added.
Under Corboy's leadership, the farm helped St. Michael's Church renovate its 1960s-era kitchen into a commercial facility now used as a community kitchen.
"Greensgrow could streamline our grab-and-go line of products, while offering a low-rent kitchen for startup to develop recipes and a commissary for local food trucks to prepare their menus without the burden of high rent," Prendergrast said. "[Corboy] believed that no matter your status in life, all people in a major city should have access to fresh food while still being neighbors."
While Corboy's impact on the neighborhood is tangible, it's just as visible on her employees.
Prendergrast said, in his nine seasons working at Greensgrow, he was impressed by Corboy's can-do positivity: "Laughing is better than crying, and when life gives you a rotten tomato, you just grow another," he said she taught him.
That attitude is what helped her build Greensgrow into what it is today, he added.
"She once said to me working at Greensgrow is like rolling a rock up a high hill: Once you get to the top, you turn around and the rock rolls down the other side. But what a view," Prendergrast said.
Corboy was profiled in 2011 book “The L Life: Extraordinary Lesbians Making a Difference.” In an interview with OutSmart about the book, Corboy detailed her work growing Greensgrow from a fledging organization that lacked indoor toilets for its first five years.
She told the magazine, “People used to say to me, ‘What is your official title?’ And I’d say, ‘Well, we really don’t have titles here. I think once we get indoor plumbing, then we can work on the titles.’”
Corboy also talked about her battle with cancer, which she willingly shared with others facing a health crisis.
“I guess there is no cookie-cutter way of going through things; it’s going to be different for every person,” she said. “I’m proud to be a survivor, I’m proud to talk to other people and help other people that are going through it and see if some way my experience can make their experience a little easier.”
Donations can be made in Corboy’s name to Greensgrow, 2503 E. Firth St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19125 or at greensgrow.org/donate.